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Friday, 19 January 2024 21:35

Defending champions through to last-16 with Indomitable Lions fearing early exit.

By Rob Stevens.

@AP.

Defending champions Senegal booked their place in the last 16 of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations with a 3-1 win over Cameroon in Group C.

Ismaila Sarr put Senegal in front in the 16th minute and Habib Diallo made it 2-0 midway through the second half.

Jean-Charles Castelletto headed in to pull one back with seven minutes remaining to set up a nervy ending.

But, after George-Kevin Nkoudou had missed a free header to equalise, Sadio Mane sealed the win in stoppage time.

Cameroon, five-time continental champions, have one point after two games and will most likely need to win their final group tie against The Gambia on Tuesday (17:00 GMT) to progress to the knockout stages.

Meanwhile, Senegal could be confirmed as Group C winners depending on the outcome of Friday's late game between the Gambians and Guinea (20:00 GMT).

Andre Onana was back in goal for Cameroon, having missed their 1-1 draw against Guinea on Monday after deciding to play for Manchester United in the Premier League 24 hours earlier.

But the 27-year-old was arguably at fault for Senegal's opener when his clearing punch from a corner was headed back into the box by Pape Matar Sarr and forward Sarr fired into the bottom right-hand corner.

The West Africans doubled their lead after some neat interplay in the 71st minute when Diallo ghosted in between Enzo Tchato and Castelletto to slide home Ismaila Sarr's low ball from six yards out.

Cameroon lacked a threat up front for most of the match, with striker Vincent Aboubakar - the top scorer at the 2021 finals - absent again through injury and Karl Toko Ekambi dropped to bench.

But the Indomitable Lions sparked into life in the final 10 minutes when centre-back Castelletto powerfully headed in Olivier Ntcham's cross following a short corner.

They pressed forward in search of a draw but Nkoudou wasted the best opening when he could only divert another right-wing cross wide at the back post in the 94th minute.

Senegal went straight up the other end to make sure of the points as former Liverpool forward Mane carefully guided Idrissa Gana Gueye's pass into the bottom left-hand corner from just inside the area.

Aliou Cisse guided the Teranga Lions to their first Afcon title two years ago, and their title defence has started perfectly as Senegal bid to become the first side to retain the trophy since 2010, when Egypt won their third in a row.